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Colorado's New Business Accelerator Aims to Boost the Future of the U.S. Economy by Helping Latino Businesses Start

Latinos in the United States are grossly underrepresented when it comes to business ownership. The Census found that nearly 19% of U.S. residents identify with her as Hispanic or Latino, but they make up just her 6% of U.S. business owners.

It worries Harry Hollines.

“Business ownership is one of the key pillars of building wealth and intergenerational wealth,” says Hollines.

Hollines is Chief Strategy Officer of the Latino Leadership Institute, founded in Colorado in 2015, with a mission to identify and elevate Latino leaders. He says that when more people are able to foster business ideas, the community as a whole becomes stronger and its members are able to tackle inequalities in their neighborhoods.

To that end, LLI is launching a business accelerator to serve Latinos and other BIPOC entrepreneurs. Hollines and her LLI believe Latinos are the catalyst for the future economic vitality of Colorado and the United States as a whole. This new accelerator called the Latino Entrepreneur Access Program (LEAP) is a step towards changing that.

Eleven individuals, all residing in Colorado, make up the initial cohort. The goal is to connect them with social, technical and financial capital to expand their business from digital education platforms to local food distributors.

Luis Antezana is the first LEAP cohort. His organization, Juntos2College, is helping DACA recipients apply for work permits, and Antezana said the organization was looking to hire its first staff. So far, he is the only paid employee and relies on volunteer help. Antezana says he’s excited to officially become a “Job He Creator” and that he’ll be joining the LEAP Accelerator to overcome the obstacles he faced in getting Juntos2College off the ground. said.

“Undocumented is one layer,” said Antesana, a Bolivian native who grew up in Los Angeles. Coming from a low-income background that doesn’t have a lot of knowledge, there are many layers to this, right?”

Seek guidance from program mentors like Eva Padilla, a business loan expert at the Colorado Enterprise Fund. Padilla specializes in numbers, helping entrepreneurs find a foothold who previously didn’t have this kind of support. She helps them understand what they need to know financially—especially in their first year.

Courtesy of Juntos2College
On July 29, 2022, Juntos2College Founder and Center Luis Antezana received an award from the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network. Photo: Eric H. Pavri, pro bono attorney at Juntos2College, and Monica Perez Valdovinos, a volunteer at the organization.

“How much have you saved? Do you have a business plan? What’s your cash flow projection? So I’m helping them hold accountable for the amount of loan they’re requesting,” Padilla said.

Her support is very important. According to her Crunchbase, a research firm, funding for Latino entrepreneurs only accounts for about 2% of all startup investments.

“I can’t wait to see the results of Lewis’ business, especially within a year from now,” she said.

LEAP is not the only accelerator for BIPOC and Latinx founders. In particular, following racial justice protests across the country in 2020, some flagship startups in Silicon Valley and Colorado have made their business ownership more representative of the communities they serve. We have launched a program that aims to make But LEAP is unusual because it’s Latino-led, Padilla says.

Outside of LEAP, entrepreneurs are encouraged to take advantage of Colorado’s Small Business Development Center. She said this is unique nationally in how it supports business owners. She also said people without social security numbers who want to start a business can get business loans in Colorado.

As Antezana looks to grow his business, one particular uncertainty comes to mind. Antezana called the outcome a “worst-case scenario,” but like any good businessman, he’s prepared for it. He said Juntos2College is piloting other programs, just in case.

“We are very well positioned to pivot to ensure that we achieve our vision of supporting undocumented families,” he said.

The new accelerator puts a lot at stake, not just for these companies, but for the broader U.S. economy. Ultimately, Hollines said, the success of Antezana’s business and his LEAP’s other businesses could play a small but important role in future US GDP growth.

“Latinas are already an important part of the workforce as well as the population. And small businesses account for 45% of economic activity. , we need continued growth of the small businesses that have been the backbone of the United States for decades,” he said. Latinos’ contribution to this needs to be proportionate to the population growth, Hollines added.

LLI will be a regular part of the services that provide the accelerator. Hollines said cohorts starting in summer 2022 are just the beginning. Hollines and his LLI colleagues noted the difference an accelerator could make to business and economic activity, as well as the opportunity for more Latinos and his BIPOCs to grow their ideas. I said that I am trying to prove what is possible when we have